Trying Too Hard

by LimebirdCat

I’ve been writing and rewriting and then scrapping and then writing some more.

That has been my writing life recently. Churning out nothing but tosh and then rehashing it. Then being disappointed by it and then starting all over again.

I find myself bereft of eloquence, of flair, of style – finesse.

I read my words and think they are meaningless and contrived.

However, I think I have discovered the cause of the problem: I am simply trying too hard.

As Batman would say to Robin “to the bat cave!”, I make a similar exclamation of “to the books!” as I went in search of a remedy.

There are no bats, boy wonders or tight fitting black outfits to be found in my little library though, alas.

I get inspiration by reading other people’s words and gain motivation once more to write my own. This time (after conquering some of Shakespeare’s history plays, including the much maligned Richard’s) I resorted to a short Jane Austin offering – Northanger Abbey. Miss Austin is resplendent in advice about the novel as a writing form throughout. I like her writing style. She has many cheeky asides with the reader whilst laying before them a most splendid garden of neat flowers and two dimensional people. She is most certainly not a Brontë, but I like her nonetheless.

My conclusion is most certainly that I am trying too hard. I am trying to be floral and elegant and instead, coming up with mismatched sentiments and long winded descriptive narrative. Who cares about the wood grain on the coffee table? Who cares about the texture of the rubber plants leaves? I can just give a quick, sweeping statement to the reader and they can fill in the gaps. There is no need to spoon feed them.

Part of the fun of reading is the use of your imagination. People say constantly that the ‘book is better than the film’, mostly because no film maker or studio budget is capable of matching the machinations of your imagination. No-one can see the characters – not even the writer – like you can.

Writing is essentially a set of directions and instructions. You are telling the reader what is being said, how it is said, where things are and how people look and feel. You are telling them. You are not there with them. You cannot physically be a readers imagination.

I think this realisation has certainly helped untie to multiple knots I find myself restrained by. The sudden and relieving rush of knowing that actually, I don’t need to tell the reader absolutely everything. I’m not giving a Police statement here – the finer nuances that do not really matter, are okay to be absent.

I’m trying to evoke poetic visions where they are not needed and are out of place a lot of the time. I am trying too much to involve and evolve themes that are unnecessary.

I just need to get a solid grip.  A room is richly furnished. I do not have  give an IKEA catalogue description of every blessed thing in there. The reader can furnish it themselves. Why should I patronise them? It is of course good to describe when it is needed and essential at times even… but I went a bit too far the other way.

Less is definitely more and I am glad that I have finally understood that concept. I hope my words here finally help some of you too who are wondering what the heck is going wrong.

LimebirdCat x

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17 Responses to “Trying Too Hard”

  1. Wise words Cat. I love those lightbulb moments when you suddenly realise what you’ve been doing wrong and how you can change it! Happy writing 😉

  2. At least you’re writing Cat, and not struggling to motivate yourself TO write. Recognising your weaknesses is so much more important than basking in your strengths.

    It’ll come together eventually. We just have to be committed and enjoy what we do, and
    if we have the flair and talent for writing then ultimately that will shine through!

    Good luck!

  3. I enjoyed this; great post. IKEA catalogue, haha! Did you have any insight from Richard??!! I love Jane Austen, I’d have to disagree with you about the two-dimensional characters, although to be fair I think Northanger Abbey is the slightest of her works.

    I like describing absolutely everything when I am visualising a scene myself. Then, in editing, the trick is deciding what to leave in, to convey atmosphere and theme in the least words possible.

    My struggle is more with feeling I have to imagine every little moment of their lives, day by day, when a one para leap to the next big event is enough. This really slows me down, and I am trying not to do it any more.

    It’s great you knew instinctively how to find your aha moment.

    Thanks for this. Enjoy the flow of inspiration and creativity you have unleashed. 🙂

  4. Six of one, half dozen of another – apparently I’m having a problem right now with not describing enough. That’s okay for both of us though, that’s what rewrites are for! I’m reworking one of my stories right now, adding to the scenes and it is making the story so much better. I guess we need to find someplace to meet in the middle 🙂 Good luck with your writing.

  5. Oh man, Cat, you just posted my big realization that allowed me to actually write, and do so with brevity. I realized that my reader’s own imagination was one of the more awesome tools in my writer’s toolkit. So now I use it quite a lot. The freedom turned my words into a torrent of story, instead of drips of excessive description. The strange part is people still say they can visualize everything going on.

    Trying too hard is a real danger, I think, especially if you read a lot of deep literature from an era when the expectations of writers were different, when the style was different, or when it’s just not your style. Sometimes I think that’s what I like best about working quickly. I don’t have time to over-think it too much.

    Great post!

  6. Oh, thank God, I’m not the only one guilty of this ‘trying too hard’ stuff. And the bad thing is, the more I tried to make it ‘perfect’, the more I lost the story I wanted to tell. We perfectionists simply need to get our MS to a point we can say “I like it”, and send it out. It’s difficult to do, but we have to do it for our sanity or nothing will ever get published. Good luck and know we’re all behind you, egging you on.

  7. This is all good. I came to this realisation last year when an agent told me much the same thing. Unless it is relevant to moving the plot along then getting bogged down in detail and asides can be detrimental to the flow of the story. Writing a draft in a month I found really useful as I really had to focus on the plot to complete in the time I allowed myself. This made my writing more immediate and direct than it ever had been. I now leave the literary turn of phrase and complex imagery to my poems where – at least where I’m concerned – I should keep it 🙂 Good luck with continuing with this. I enjoyed the post.

  8. Thank you for sharing this, Cat! Your words be true for me too!

  9. Sometimes we stub our toe and hop about a bit… there are times when I’ll think something too tepid, because I don’t ever wish to catch myself using the words ‘it’s okay’, and just start out rewriting the whole chapter. I find a big key is immersion, being there in the scene, sort of recording salient points as it happens, letting myself go as observer. Throw down the story, edit in the polish after. When I do this, the story even surprises me, because I had no clue it would go there. 😉

  10. Yes, be frugal but exacting with detail. I highly recommend Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.

  11. Wow. What an amazing post. I love the reminder that as writers we lay the foundation but the readers are those who are able to let their imaginations run wild with the words we provide. A great writing tidbit that I needed today. Thanks!

  12. The trick is knowing what to put in and what to leave out. (just like in painting.)
    But don’t beat yourself up for over-writing. Sometimes you have to over-work to get yourself going, then once it starts to flow you realize how much you can actually get rid of. Verbiage can be a bit like training wheels.

  13. Thank you for a most enjoyable post. You are absolutely right. I have read books in the past which have described so much, I have forgotten where I am in the plot. I never get to the end of them. I love description but the clever writer knows where to let the reader fill in for themselves. Good luck with the writing.

  14. I do agree with M.K. above – the trick is knowing what to put in and what to leave out. Sometimes, that only becomes apparent to me on a reread – after I’ve let a piece sit for a couple of days. I’ll reread, and the excess or lack of content will hit me.

    We all have dry days, when the brain doesn’t cooperate. Sometimes I think a breather is needed. I think the subconscious is working on the problem in the background, but it just isn’t ready to serve it up to your conscious self yet. I’ve had it happen – nothing for days and then, suddenly, the words come in a rush.

  15. Very true, although some people can go the other way – like not telling me anything at all about where the action is happening except that it’s on “a street.”

    Me, I tend to over-explain rather than over-describe. It’s a similar problem, though. I need to remember that my readers aren’t stupid!

  16. This really hits home, Cat. I was trying far too hard to get back into and began scaring myself. Everything you’re said I nodded to.

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